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The paradox of flat-panel TVs: High-def picture, lo-def sound

Crutchfield Hi-Fi 2.0I've come to expect a lot from my electronics. They have to be smarter, thinner, more powerful. They should provide a fun gaming experience AND help me find a good recipe for dinner. And maybe they should shine my shoes while they're at it.

Most of the time, I am not disappointed. There are a lot of amazing gadgets out there. Occasionally though, the limitations of reality set in. Namely, the paradox of flat-panel TVs.

Today's models have ridiculous pictures. So lifelike.And what's even better is that they've all gone on some sort of super Hollywood fitness plan — they're sleek and svelte, and constantly getting thinner. I think we can all agree that they look amazing, really, on or off.

Toshiba 55UL610U 55"  HDTV

The display on this 55" Toshiba HDTV is gorgeous. Despite its large screen, the TV is only 1-1/4" thick.

Toshiba 55UL6100U HDTV side view

The Toshiba 55" HDTV in profile. Do you see any room for full-range speakers in there?

But I'd like to pass on some wisdom here that I'm sure we've all received from someone at some time or another: it's not all about looks. Nope. When it comes to watching TV shows, movies, anything — sound matters.

And this is the point at which our beautiful,centerfold-ready TVs run up against the cold hard facts of physics. And that is: Speakers can only sound so good when they're crammed into a panel that's only a couple of inches deep. They can't provide great stereo imaging — or even consistently clear, understandable dialogue — when they're firing out of the back or bottom of your TV.

Mirage Nanosat 5.1 Compact speaker system

A full surround sound speaker system is generally your best bet for detailed, engaging sound, but there are lots of ways to get better sound with your TV.

And most manufacturers aren't paying tons of attention to improving their TVs' speakers, as they expect many people will ultimately opt for a surround sound setup with free-standing or wall-mounted speakers. I know, truth hurts.

The good news? You have A TON of options for getting some quite impressive sound to go along with your knockout picture, everything from extremely décor-friendly, to extreme hi-fi, and some very affordable options as well. Personally, I go for a full surround sound speaker system. If I'm supposed to track down an enemy in a game, for example, I want to be able to hear exactly where they are - if they're flanking me to the right, or sneaking up directly behind me.

Klipsch Gallery G-42 Soundbar

Soundbars are an increasingly popular solution, delivering high-quality audio from a compact form.

[Shop our selection of home theater speaker systems.]

But for my bedroom TV, where I just do a little casual TV watching, I'd be completely thrilled with a simple soundbar system. You can get just a soundbar that fits nicely under your TV, or a soundbar plus subwoofer to further fill out the sound.

[Shop our selection of soundbars.]

You can check out more options for adding better sound to your TV in our learning center article.

So what do you think? Are your TV's speakers adequate, or are you itching for an upgrade?

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